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Turning the Tables on Cancer

NorthShore oncology team launches a collaborative attack on late-stage colon cancer.

Dr. Marshall Baker (left), Eric Jablonski and Dr. Jennifer Obel

Dr. Marshall Baker (left), Eric Jablonski and Dr. Jennifer Obel catch up as they celebrate Jablonski’s cancer-free status following their collective battle against his late-stage colon cancer.

At 43 years old, Eric Jablonski has learned many lessons traditionally reserved for later in life. While he happily plans for the future, he is very much living in the present, which thankfully is cancer-free.

Three years ago Jablonski, a seemingly healthy father of three young children, had his world turned upside down with a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer that had spread to his liver. Close to 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer each year, and nearly 50,000 of them will die, most with metastatic tumors. Jablonski was determined to beat the odds.

He and his wife immediately began exploring options, pursuing experts at teaching hospitals where the most advanced protocols would offer the best chance of stopping his aggressive cancer. Initially, he received two very different opinions, but chose a collaborative team with an innovative approach for care at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Jablonski said he knew he was in the right hands when he met with NorthShore oncology surgeon Marshall Baker, MD. Dr. Baker and NorthShore oncologist Jennifer Obel, MD, carefully developed a sophisticated treatment plan involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiofrequency ablation. “They both exuded confidence,” Jablonski said of Drs. Baker and Obel. “Their personalities and their caring, knowledge and expertise got me through this.” Both Drs. Baker and Obel are on faculty at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Dr. Baker performed a complex, minimally-invasive surgical procedure to remove the mass in Jablonksi’s colon before he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. A few months later, Jablonski had a second operation to remove the cancer from his liver. Dr. Baker laparoscopically removed a portion of the right lobe, and lesions on the left were targeted with radiofrequency ablation, where energy is applied to a tumor, heating it up and destroying it.

“Our approach to colon cancer patients with liver metastases has changed dramatically,” said Dr. Obel. “Years ago, this diagnosis was uniformly thought to be fatal. As our chemotherapies and surgical outcomes have improved, more patients achieve prolonged survival and even cure.” Jablonski underwent another five rounds of chemotherapy following the liver surgery. Throughout his treatments, he never took time off from work and never became depressed. “I remember telling Dr. Obel, failure is not an option; I have three children who I intend to see grow up; two of them are daughters who I need to walk down the aisle some day.”

Today, Jablonski remains cancer-free and optimistic—a feeling his doctors also share. “Deciding when and how to stage the operations and the chemotherapy was vitally important,” said Dr. Baker.

“His tumors completely responded to the chemotherapy, so his prognosis is excellent,” Dr. Obel said. “With this multi-modality approach, we are now moving toward curing patients. The paradigm of treating these advanced cancers has changed.